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JOAN VENNOCHI

Sal DiMasi pursues his inalienable right to lobby

Former Massachusetts House speaker Sal DiMasi.
Former Massachusetts House speaker Sal DiMasi. (CRAIG F. WALKER/GLOBE STAFF)

Like others with a criminal record, Sal DiMasi is finding it hard to land a job.

For a better shot at redemption, if not employment, he might try replacing chutzpah with penitence. Instead of proclaiming a “constitutional right” to lobby, why not finally utter the words he should have said a long time ago?

That is, “I’m sorry.”

DiMasi, the once-powerful speaker of the House, served five years of an eight year sentence on federal corruption charges stemming from a scheme to steer a state contract to a software company in exchange for payments totaling $65,000. In 2016, he obtained a compassionate release from prison based on a cancer diagnosis he received shortly after he was incarcerated. Because of his crimes, he lost his license to practice law. Now he wants to relaunch his career, this time as a lobbyist.

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But his application to register with the state of Massachusetts was rejected by Secretary of State William F. Galvin on the grounds that his criminal record includes “conduct in violation” of state lobbying and ethics laws. DiMasi is appealing the finding with the brazen argument that “[l]obbying is a constitutional right.” There’s a constitutional right to free speech and religion, to bear arms, and to a speedy and public trial. But . . . to peddle influence?

DiMasi also argues that the federal counts of his conviction — mail fraud, wire fraud, and extortion — aren’t specifically included as disqualifying convictions under state law. As he notes in a letter to Galvin’s office, a task force on ethics reform heard comments and suggestions that would allow disqualification for any felony conviction, “but the law passed by the Legislature and then signed by the governor did not do so, instead it confined the basis for disqualification to those specified state statutes.” A pre-hearing conference is scheduled for June 13.

If DiMasi loses that fight, state law bars him from lobbying for 10 years after his conviction, or until June 2021. Whatever happens on that front, however, doesn’t change a post-prison status that is often described as complicated. To that, I would add another word: sad.

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DiMasi rose from humble roots in the North End to become the state’s first Italian-American speaker. From that perch, he was a passionate advocate for progressive causes. He championed gay marriage and health care reform. He stood up against casino gambling. In the end, however, a federal investigation into his conduct yielded a jury conviction on multiple charges, for which DiMasi never took full responsibility — or offered an unconditional apology.

In public statements after his conviction, he said he did not have the “intent” to commit a federal crime and thought what he was doing was allowed under state law. At sentencing, he tearfully begged for mercy and called himself a “broken man” — but still hoped people could look in his heart and find some good. On the day he went to jail, he said, “I maintain my innocence. I have never, nor would I ever, violate the public’s trust.”

In an interview after his release from prison, DiMasi told the Globe’s Matt Stout he still believes that “I tried to do everything in the right way.” Asked during an appearance on Greater Boston if he thought he had broken the law, DiMasi said, “I did the best I could under the circumstances and everything that was presented to me, and I tried to comply with the law in every single way. . . . I’ve spent probably the last 10 years trying to put that in the past. The conviction is behind me — and now I have to deal with the reality of what happened to me.”

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Without remorse, he’s a disappointing advocate for himself and others.


Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.